Monthly Archives: February 2014

Watch a Fugue

My introduction to Bach was, maybe sort of oddly, a cassette of the Stokowski Bach transcriptions. Wildly Romantic, lush and thick, the complete antithesis of what most people I know think Bach “should” sound like.

And they absolutely captivated me. The Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor is to this day the piece I go to when I need to quiet my mind down from its customary racing insanity. (It helps to slow it down so it does its insane thing a little more slowly.) And from my very first hearing of that solo oboe statement of the first subject, the G Minor Little Fugue has been one of my favorite pieces of music ever. The transcription made the architecture so clear and easy to follow that it carried me along the whole way and I suspect is at the core of my adult love of counterpoint of any kind. Years later my piano teacher let me play the Samaroff transcription of that fugue in recital (also wildly Romantic, but amazing). I’ve done plenty of more “period” Bach since then, but something about this fugue has never let go of me.

So when a dear friend posted a link to one of these visualized fugues on Youtube, and I poked around until I found the Little in there with several other pieces, imagine my delight when I played it for my daughter and she fell in love with it immediately. We listened to and watched several different pieces, but she just kept going back to the Little Fugue and wanted to watch it again and again…

This idea is brilliant–I can’t wait to teach a music appreciation class sometime so I can use this.

Don’t mess with the organist!

I’m sure this only happens in Britain, right?

Beware the wrath of the church organist: musical revenge is sweet!

The worst such behavior I’ve ever displayed was when my friend Regina got married. We had the rehearsal in this big historic church and I was playing this big historic organ, and they were practicing the processional. The atmosphere was entirely too tense and nervy, big dark ominous church, looked like something from a 30’s horror movie…(sorry, lovely historical old church!)

So after a few bars of the Clarke or Purcell I was supposed to play, I segued into “Alley Cat” on the big historical organ. Reg proceeded to dance her way down the aisle, while her fiance and friends and Fr. Ray laughed. (I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t know all present would have a sense of humor about it.) The rest of the rehearsal went very well. People were more relaxed. My work there was done.

The next day I did play what I was supposed to. They are my friends, after all.

Even when I had the old priest who liked to start Mass when he was ready (regardless of whether the clock, by which I timed my preludes, said there were still at least 75 seconds left before the hour), and who would step out into the aisle and yell up to the organ loft, “Hey! We’re ready to go down here, so shut up!” never received any vengeful musical retaliation. (Mostly because I knew there was nothing I could do that he would even notice. He didn’t hear too well.)

(And people wonder why I wanted out of full time church music?)

I have a friend who, for his improvised postlude to “Joy to the World” every Christmas, works old Jeremiah the Bullfrog into the pedals somewhere. Wish I had the organ chops to pull that one off…


(p.s. any organists here, I trust, are familiar with Mark Schweitzer’s “Liturgical Mysteries” novel series, about a small town police chief/church organist who solves crimes and writes really bad mystery novels? Highly recommended…the first one is only $.99 on Kindle…)

Berio’s Sinfonia, Third Movement

This is hailed as one of the first pieces of “postmodern” music out there, the beginning of the wave that possibly still hasn’t crested yet…it’s as old as I am. Which is interesting to contemplate.

It’s insane. It’s nuts. It’s thick and impenetrable and really really cool…and sort of amazing. It sounds to me exactly like what would happen if someone hid microphones in every room in a music school and played them all at once. (There might be theater rehearsals going on in the same building?) Most unexpected use of the Mahler 2 Scherzo I’ve ever heard.

(If you’re going to give it a try–and no judgment if you’re not–do it with earphones and commit to at least 4-5 minutes of it before you go “aaaaahhh” and bail. Once you get that far, you might make it to the end…)

Roomful of Teeth

I had never heard of this group when an invite to their Ravinia concert this March popped up in my Facebook feed…so of course I did what everyone does: I ran over to YouTube to see what I could find. I found a lot. These guys are sort of extraordinary! (Check out their site and bio)

You can do your own YouTube search, of course, or buy/download their whole album on Amazon, but this is one of my favorites so far, just for listening:

Oh, okay, check this one out too–completely different, and way rowdy:

One thing I love about them is their incredible diversity of vocal production and sound–these guys don’t inhabit “a sound-world,” they just keep adding new rooms on as they go. Very cool.


When I took composition last year, we spent most of my lessons just sitting there listening to music. And talking. Or really, my teacher talked, and I nodded and rarely got a word in. Which was fine with me–he knows a lot more than I do. And he’d stop in the middle of a sentence and start rooting around his office for “a piece I want you to listen to.” Or he’d send me to the library with a list, and have me come back with a pile of scores.

One piece he pulled out in one of our lessons was this double bass solo…it’s brilliant. Turns all kinds of expectations on its ear. (And this kid knocks it out of the park. He fails beautifully.:-) )

They just keep moving the line…

What the hell?

I leave iMovie for a few months, and then when I come back to it the whole interface has changed, the vocabulary, the processes, the locations of things–this is simply unkind.

That is all I really have to say about that. Now I have to get onto the Apple forums and figure out again how to export my project–which apparently isn’t a “project” any more, it may now be an “event,” unless what is an “event” is what used to be a “clip”…grr.

This is going to be one of those frustrating mornings, isn’t it?

Adjuncts of the world, Unite (and shame the crap out of any happy adjuncts!)

The job market is looking more and more…real. I am not ready to enter it fully yet, but I can no longer ignore it as I once could. (Not that I ever did; I’ve been studying the job market since before I went back to school. But now it’s leaving the realm of interesting research and becoming something I will soon have to directly engage.)

I have been teaching at a couple of schools this year, just a course at a time, getting my feet wet and putting a few new lines onto my CV while working my other part time gigs and writing the paper. And perusing academic blogs and sites for basic Zeitgeisty stuff.

You can’t wade through an academia-oriented website nowadays without accidentally walking into a really unhappy, poor, debt-laden adjunct academic who’s completely pissed off with the whole system that keeps them in poverty while those tenured few enjoy the perks and delights of what academia is supposed to really be like. And believe me, I’m not dismissing those people, nor in any way applauding or endorsing a system that creates so many more indebted academics than there are jobs for them, so very many more…it’s ridiculous and wrong, and I’m completely on board with that.

However…in my quiet lurking in the corners of academic sites, I came across this one recently, about an adjunct working in my own fair city who has managed to find a situation she kind of likes, and where she can make a living wage working at two different colleges. She states pretty plainly that she knows it is horrible out there for a lot of people, but she wanted to put out there the story of at least one situation where it doesn’t.

Over the next 15 comments or so she is called irresponsible, unethical, a “smug self-satisfied tool,” and a liar. She is told that because she has a spouse with a full time job her academic work isn’t a “career” but a “hobby” and accused of “siding with the bosses,” for presenting a narrative that in some way (say the commenters) implies that being an adjunct isn’t so bad and there’s nothing wrong with it.

I don’t want to go on there and engage. And I doubt anyone who read that post will bother to come over here and engage me, but if they want to, what the hell. But…where I come from, and where I went to school, even in the whole artsy world, one tries to actually read what a document says and not choke on your own perceived reception of subtext. Nothing she said in her post could reasonably have been construed as saying “Yay! Go into academia, even if you are an adjunct, it’ll be fun!” The overall slant of her story seemed, to my perspective, to be just that—her telling of her story. A long term adjunct faculty member who has been fortunate enough to be able to make it work. A story that pushed a lot of people’s buttons, apparently. Makes me want to smack a bunch of them over the head with a hardbound copy of Bourdieu. With a little Ricoeur on the side.

Before going any further, let me just be clear: I am a musician. Many of my friends live the lives of freelancers, and they manage to work and socialize and marry and have kids if they wish and pay their mortgages on condos in the city or houses in the suburbs and generally pull through.  It’s been rough in the past few years, with the economy tanking, but they are being creative and generally keeping it going. Some are partnered with spouses whose jobs provide them with health benefits (they–we–are the lucky ones), some are single, some are partnered with other freelancers. (No. It is not a hobby.) Many others who don’t consider themselves “freelance” keep their lives together by cobbling together 3 or 4 or more part time gigs at any one time; Christmas is pay dirt and March is slim, but most of the time things just keep perking along.  There’s never a guarantee that the same job is going to still be there next season, but you hope for the best and keep your options open, and life goes on. You market yourself. You audition. You cold-call. You network. It’s part of the gig, and it’s a part that never ends.

It is from this perspective that I read some of these comments from unhappy adjuncts whose former $60,000 salaries have been unexpectedly downsized to the mid-40s, or whose ability to earn a livable full time salary hinges on their working their butts off all year round without summers off. And while yes, the system sucks…I have a hard time weeping for you. You see, I come at this whole academia thing from a place where the job security is even less, and the pay less still. For me, adjuncting at its worst means one more potential part time job I can add to my roster of 3-4 existing ones, especially if I can get one for a winter quarter somewhere when the other gigs are few and far between.

I get that it should be better, and if any of us were misled by others at the beginning of this process into believing all we had to do was get the degree and a cushy TT job was all but guaranteed, that’s disgraceful. And I also get that the current system of abandoning regular faculty for harried part time teachers erodes the quality of our universities and our overall quality of life–not just the teachers’ quality of life, but that of everyone who could benefit from what a solid university system could offer. And I’m a big fan of organized collective bargaining, and I agree that adjuncts need it, and badly. I’m not arguing with any of that.

Yes. It needs fixing.  But shaming and screaming at Kelli Marshall for not pretending her life sucks, or for not keeping silent in the corner and not speaking unless she speaks party line, isn’t the solution. I’m not sure what is…but I’m pretty sure it’s not that.

Back to the Blog

Back to the blog. Because I need something to do on the days I can’t squeeze any words out for my actual dissertation.

I’m heading into the homestretch now, having passed all the exams and achieved candidacy; now I’m writing. I’ve happened almost by accident upon a really good topic that’s only a spit away from the one I initially wanted to do but gave up because the only faculty member who knew what the hell I was talking about left for a different school. And now I’ve circled back around to it…and discovered that doing it from this angle, rather than the one I was trying before, will itself open doorways to eventually making my original topic more palatable to musicians in general. Because new ways to analyze music are always going to be interesting, and performance nerds can relate to them.

So we’ll see what happens. I’m excited. Which I probably won’t be able to say in about 2 months, but I’ll take it for now.